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Streaking Lynx visit slumping Sparks

Fresh off winning the All-Star Game MVP award for the third straight year, Maya Moore on Thursday leads Minnesota into the lion's den -- AKA Staples Center -- to face archrival Los Angeles Sparks.

This will be Part IV of the regular-season collision between the league's two powers who have slugged it out for the past two WNBA titles, with the Sparks winning in five games in 2016. The Lynx got their sweet revenge by taking home the title, also in five games, last season.

Stay tuned to see if there is a rubber match this season -- league-leader Seattle appears poised to crash the Finals party -- but for now, the Lynx hope to even the regular-season series at two games apiece.

The Sparks are trying to get their mojo back.

After an unusual slow start, the Lynx are rounding into postseason form. Since starting 3-6, Minnesota has gone 12-4 and shot up into third place, a half-game ahead of the Sparks.

The Lynx, who have won three straight, are staring at a daunting task. Following Thursday's game, Minnesota travels to Seattle to face the Storm on Friday and then returns home for matchup against second-place Atlanta.

The Lynx look forward to the challenge.

"Our confidence is fine," reigning MVP Sylvia Fowles said during the All-Star break. "It was fine when we were losing. We're just going to take it one game at a time. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves."

Unlike Minnesota, Los Angeles got off to a sizzling 9-2 start.

But then the wheels started to come loose, and the Sparks have gone 6-9. At 15-11 they are tied for fourth place, 4 1/2 games behind Seattle.

Getting off to a good start as the season heads toward the homestretch is crucial for the Sparks.

"In years' past, this break has been bad for us. We were hot and we came back and we played really bad after the break," Sparks' future Hall of Famer Candace Parker said. "I guess I'm hoping it's the opposite effect. We played poorly before the break and now maybe we'll figure out how to put it together. ... Obviously, health is something that you can't control. All you can control is the players that are on the court. I'm pretty confident that we'll get it together."

The Lynx know all about fighting through difficult times. They only have to look back to the first month of the season when coach Cheryl Reeve challenged her troops to be tougher mentally and pay attention to detail -- two essential qualities of a champion.

Moore told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the formula was not complicated.

"We just have to pay attention, focus, and play with conviction. Whatever we're going to do, we're going to do together," she said.

For the Sparks to get back on track, they'll need a healthy Nneka Ogwumike, who is listed as questionable. The team's second leading scorer and rebounder was unable to play in the All-Star Game and hasn't been on the court since July 15. Ogwumike has been suffering headaches and fatigue.

Defensive specialist Alana Beard also is questionable with a groin injury.

Chelsea Gray has stepped up and relished the opportunity. She's third on the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game and connects on more than 39 percent of her 3-point attempts.

And, she's fearless. Her size and agility are a perfect complement to Parker.

"It's fun for me as a teammate to play with her because she's able to create for everybody -- herself, her teammates," Parker told silverscreenandroll.com. "She sees the game really well. ... She definitely has a high basketball IQ."
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